On the heels of Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB) latest acquisitions of Whatsapp and Oculus last month, CEO Mark Zuckerberg released an unofficial paper on the new Connectivity Lab, which will be used as a vehicle to develop technologies for his bigger mission -- to connect the world with Internet.org.
The $2 billion dollar acquisition of Oculus sets Facebook up to be in a wider market for competition, as Sony (NYSE:SNE) has recently launched it's new virtual reality technology, Project Morpheus, for the immersive gaming scene. The new technology is currently targeted toward gamers, but Facebook and Oculus believe that it could expand to be used for social communications, health care, and more.
On a mission to connect the world, Facebook's Connectivity Lab now rivals Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Project Loon. Started in June 2013, the company's plan has been to launch specially made balloons into the stratosphere, above airplanes and weather, to distribute Internet connectivity across the world. Facebook is planning what it believes to be a more stable and long-lasting approach using laser beams, drones, and satellites.
For larger population densities, Zuckerberg proposed that wireless mesh networks can provide solutions that are cost-effective and simple to deploy. Free Space Optical communication, or FSO, uses laser beams to transfer data through space. The lasers have the potential to provide extremely high bandwidths and capacity comparable to fiber optics, but FSO would be more cost-effective.
However, the level of accuracy needed to flawlessly execute such data transfer is akin to "needing to hit a dime from 10 miles away, or hit the statue of liberty from California." Also, the lasers would need direct line of sight between the two connection points, so clouds and bad weather conditions could pose problems. Therefore, back up radio systems would need to be in place.
Areas with a moderate population would be covered with drones (unmanned aircraft), potentially including high-altitude solar-powered aircraft that would have long endurance and could be quickly deployed. An ideal altitude of 65,000 feet could cover a city-sized area, and it is also both the lowest altitude for unregulated airspace and a layer in the atmosphere with stable weather conditions.
High endurance of the vehicles would mean that they could last in the air for months, or even years, and the charging of batteries via solar power would allow for energy conservation. Unlike satellites, drones wouldn't burn up in the atmosphere when finished with missions, allowing for safe return to Earth for maintenance and redeployment. Equipped with microwave antennae, the potential for Internet connectivity would increase via efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
Low population satellites
Two satellite options being explored involve low-earth orbit, or LEO, and geosynchronous orbit, or GO. The main differences between the two are the distance from Earth and the speed at which devices would orbit. LEO would be 160 kilometers-2,000 kilometers above Earth, while GO would be 35,786 kilometers. LEO are also slower than the Earth's rotation, which means a "constellation" of satellites would be needed, while a GO would travel at the same speed as the Earth's orbit, meaning fewer satellites would be needed.
The cost risk for the satellite project is huge, as merely launching a satellite can costs hundreds of millions of dollars alone, but the long-term benefit would be the delivery of connectivity solutions when all other options fail.
Facebook took a good blow to the stock belt this past week with prices falling 5.4%. Reasons include worries over the company's latest acquisitions, as well as an overall drop in the market. Facebook is clearly a risky investment; the price tags for new toys may seem high, but they give investors insight as to how much confidence Zuckerberg has in his mission and the company's potential for the future. Putting stock in Facebook is more than just investing in a tech company; it's investing in a larger partnership and vision -- connecting the world and making information accessible to everyone.